5th Avenue Theatre
Through December 23, 2022. Get tickets and more info here.
The Wiz is the latest show to ease on down at the 5th Avenue Theatre. Originally, the show broke new grounds and barriers as it was one of the first all African-American cast shows to be on Broadway. The music is infectious, and you’ll quickly find yourself tapping your toes.
The story should be extremely well known by now. Dorothy is a young girl from Kansas who outstays her welcome at home and travels to another world. She commits not one but two political murders; the first accidental, the second cold-blooded and planned. Under the advice of Addaperle, the local Regent of Munchkinland, Dorothy sets off for a meeting with the country’s reigning oppressor – The Wiz. Once Dorothy muscles her way into an audience, The Wiz drags her into political espionage by bartering for Dorothy to assassinate an underground rival, Evillene – The Wicked Witch of the West. Dorothy raises an army consisting of an odd menagerie of three (a Scarecrow, a Tin Man, and a Lion), to aide her in committing politicide before selfishly deserting her friends to live in the aftermath of her Coup d’état.
(Of course, the above storyline has been twisted for humorous effect by this author. Is there anyone that doesn’t know the story of The Wizard of Oz?)
The musical is a fun adaptation. The cast does a good job supporting the leads, while adding a little ‘extra something’ for uniqueness. The costumes are very colorful (shout-out to Costume Coordinator and Costume Director, Jarrod Barnes and Shannin Strom-Henry, respectively) and look like something from a Dr. Seuss cartoon. The sets are simplistic and don’t distract from the talent on the stage.
The Tinman is played by Phillip Attmore. Mr. Attmore has a very good voice. Whether he (preferred pronoun) is singing the comical song “Slide Some Oil to Me”, or the heartfelt ballad, “What Would I Do If I Could Feel”, Mr. Attmore handles the music and lyrics with grace and subtle emotion. Another shout-out goes to Mr. Attmore for his beautiful tap number, which he also choreographed.
The Lion is played by Nate Tenenbaum. Mr. Tenenbaum is the definitive scene-stealer in this show. He (preferred pronoun) plays the lion with less cowardice and more with the flair and prissiness of a Dandy. The interpretation provides the comedic relief throughout the show using simple gestures and playful diction to his full advantage. His voice roars when he sings, “Mean Ole Lion”, and delivers the number with powerful emoting.
Dorothy is played by the talented Kataka Corn. Their (preferred pronoun) performance is worth the ticket. Mx. Corn (Mx. refers to the pronoun ‘they/their’) has a great voice. They can belt out “Soon As I Get Home” with a powerful instrument without losing the tenderness of the ballad. They hold a strong stage presence that easily captures the audience’s attention without pulling focus from the others on stage. Mx. Corn is definitely a person to watch for in Seattle’s theatre community, if not beyond.
While the above mentioned are definite stand-out performances, the other leads also did well…or well enough. Nehemiah Hooks (Scarecrow), Sarah Russell (Addaperle), and Shaunyce Omar (Evillene) all do good work in their roles. They all sing well and are enjoyable to watch. Be Russell (The Wiz) does a fine job, but it lacked a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ stage presence that is needed for the title role. Instead of the “great and powerful”, we see the “Flash and LackLuster” Wizard of Oz. The energy needed for songs like “Meet the Wizard” or “Y’all Got It?” was only hinted at, instead of being delivered in full force. It is interesting to see the title role played by other than a (cis) male, and the change was noted and enjoyed.
When The Wiz premiered in 1974 it was a cultural break-through. It was one of the first (and few at the time) to use an all “African-American” cast and adapt the stories to reflect their cultural experiences in the United States. The 5th Avenue also utilizes a cast consisting (mostly) of ‘People of Color’, and is applauded for following the example of the trail-blazing musical. The show’s script and costumes reflect the 70’s in a fun, nostalgic way (as in the Mouse Vice Squad complete with plaid pants and playful ears) without losing the meaning of the show; “most politicians are charlatans with little magical substance to offer the people”. (sic)
The Wiz officially opened on Broadway January 5, 1975 and ran for over four years. It won seven out of the eight Tony nominations received including: Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Featured Actor & Actress in a Musical (Ted Ross as The Lion, Dee Dee Bridgewater as Glinda). The original production also included André De Shields (The Wiz), Mabel King (Evillene), Hinton Battle (Scarecrow), and Stephanie Mills (Dorothy). A film version was released in 1978. Ted Ross and Mabel King reprised their roles, and were joined by Diana Ross (Dorothy), Michael Jackson (Scarecrow), Nipsey Russell (Tinman), Lena Horne (Glinda), and (in the title role) Richard Pryor. The film was originally considered a ‘commercial failure’, but has found life anew as a cult classic.